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Venezuela’s video game ban

We had a lively discussion last week about violence in video games. A new story from the AP promises for more: Venezuela is going to ban violent video games and toys.

Venezuela would be one of few countries to impose an all-out ban on the “manufacture, importation, distribution, sales and use of violent video games and bellicose toys.” The proposed law would give Venezuela’s consumer protection agency the discretion to define what products should be prohibited and impose fines as high as $128,000.

As the article goes on to explain, the government’s reasoning sounds downright Gandhian, and it goes much beyond a simple ban:

The Venezuelan bill would mandate crime prevention classes in public schools and force the media to “implement permanent campaigns” to warn against the dangers of violent games. Another provision requires the government “to promote the production, distribution, sales and use” of games that teach kids “respect for an adversary.”

The very next lines, however, makes one suspect that perhaps the Chavez administration might not be the best teacher of this lesson:

Some 2,000 people marched across Venezuela’s capital Saturday to protest what they call widespread persecution of Chavez’s opponents.

“It’s a bit ironic that supporters of Chavez, who persecutes his political opponents, want to teach our children the need for respect,” quipped Tomas Sanchez, an opposition lawmaker who broke ranks with Chavez.

While I don’t believe such outright censorship is necessarily the right approach, crime prevention classes (or, rather, conflict resolution classes, to take a more positive approach), which teach “respect for an adversary,” sound like a worthwhile option. Simply enacting a ban will likely fan a black market. Somehow minimizing the demand for such things, however, offers some hope.

Mixing a class like this with a violent suppression campaign can be a fraught proposition—witness the failure of D.A.R.E. anti-drug programs in the United States. The government became so fixated on drugs that students adopted that fixation and drug use didn’t decline for people who took those classes. Much better, of course, is to offer a range nonviolent alternatives, both to drugs and violence, including a more vibrant and demanding community life, employment, and positive role models. Perhaps most of all, though, the government needs to practice what it preaches.